Plains

South Dakota, Missouri Are Top Senate Matchups In One of Country’s Most Competitive Regions

Posted November 7, 2003 at 10:51am

Iowa

Filing deadline: March 19
Primary: June 8

Senate

Incumbent: Chuck Grassley (R)
4th term (68 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican


Grassley is as close to impregnable as is possible in a swing state like Iowa. Since being elected in 1980 with 54 percent, he has won re-election with 66 percent, 70 percent and 68 percent.

This cycle looks no different, as most high-profile Democrats look likely to take a pass on the race, choosing instead to prepare for the 2006 open gubernatorial race.

Both Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson and Secretary of State Chet Culver are mentioned but neither seem willing to take on Grassley.

As usual, Grassley is taking no chances. He had $5 million in the bank at the end of September, the fifth largest war chest of Senate incumbents up for re-election in 2004.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Jim Leach (R)
14th term (52 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican


After years of eluding tough races in this Democratic-leaning district, Leach was heavily targeted in 2002 but escaped with 52 percent, his lowest percentage since he won the seat in 1976.

Leach’s battle with physician Julie Thomas (D) was one of roughly 15 races targeted by both parties; both House campaign committees spent more than $1 million on issue advocacy ads.

Leach ran on his longtime record as one of the most moderate members of the Republican Conference; Thomas argued that the district, which gave then Vice President Al Gore 53 percent, should be represented by a real Democrat.

Thomas was a strong fundraiser but not a terrific stump candidate, and Leach presented a difficult candidate to attack. If the race had been run after the enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, even Republicans admit that Leach, who is not an aggressive fundraiser on his own, would have lost. But with the help of the National Republican Congressional Committee, he survived with a 6-point win.

Thomas is mentioned again as a candidate, although those close to her believe she will ultimately decide against running. Iowa City School Board member David Franker (D) announced he would join the race in late September but is not expected to seriously challenge Leach.

Attorney John Hedgecoff is also mentioned.

Perhaps scared by his close call, Leach has gone back on his usual practice of not raising money in the year before an election. He ended September with $140,000 in the bank, and even had Vice President Cheney visit the district for an October fundraiser.

3rd district
Incumbent: Leonard Boswell (D)
4th term (53 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic


Republicans were keen on their chances of defeating Boswell in 2002, as the nonpartisan redistricting process in the Hawkeye State forced him from his southern Iowa rural district into a more urban Des Moines-based district. Only one-quarter of Boswell’s old district was preserved in the new 3rd.

But Boswell proved resilient, and Stan Thompson, the GOP candidate, was solid but unspectacular. Thompson was also hindered by the Republicans’ need to ensure the re-election of Reps. Jim Nussle and Jim Leach in neighboring districts. Boswell won 53 percent to 45 percent.

Thompson is back in 2004. He has begun to raise money for the effort and showed $23,000 in his campaign coffers through September. Boswell had $267,000 on hand at that time.

A potential hurdle for Boswell is his vote for the Republican Medicare prescription drug bill that passed the House by just one vote. Boswell was one of nine Democrats to support the legislation, which was vehemently opposed by organized labor, a potent force in the Hawkeye State. Labor leaders have floated the idea of backing a more liberal primary challenge to Boswell in 2004, but none has yet emerged.

If Boswell faces a real primary race or if labor does not line up behind him in the general election, he could struggle in this competitive district.

Kansas

Filing deadline: June 10
Primary: Aug. 3

Senate

Incumbent: Sam Brownback (R)
1st full term (65 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican


Brownback is set to face voters for the third time in eight years and is expected to cruise to a second full term.

Brownback first came to the Senate in a 1996 special election to replace Majority Leader Bob Dole (R), who resigned his seat to devote all of his attention to his ill-fated presidential bid. Brownback defeated the Democratic nominee with 54 percent in the special election to win the remaining two years of Dole’s term and won a full six-year term two years later.

Senate Democrats recruited Rep. Dennis Moore (D) for the race but he declined. Attention then turned to former Rep. Dan Glickman (D), who after making his traditional rumblings about a run, bowed out in September. No other Democrats have stepped in to the void.

Brownback limited himself to two terms in 1996 so the seat is likely to be open in 2010. That will be Democrats’ best chance of winning their first Senate race in Kansas since 1930.

House

3rd district
Incumbent: Dennis Moore (D)
3rd term (50 percent)
Outlook: Tossup


Moore is running a race against the demographics of his Kansas City-based district, which continues to become more and more Republican as much as any of his potential GOP opponents.

The 2001 Census showed that Johnson County — the strongest Republican area in the district — grew by nearly 100,000 people during the 1990s. In contrast, the Democratic base county of Wyandotte lost 4,000 people in the past decade.

Moore has survived through a combination of strong fundraising, solid crossover appeal and the ideological divide between conservatives and moderates in the Kansas Republican Party.

State Republicans have two of their rising stars, 2002 nominee Adam Taff and former Justice Department official Kris Kobach, fighting for the right to challenge Moore. State Rep. Patricia Barbieri-Lightner (R) is also running.

Taff, a former Navy pilot, came from total obscurity to win the GOP primary last cycle by touting his moderate credentials and ability to win the general election against Moore.

Taff’s win surprised the National Republican Congressional Committee, which had backed conservative physician Jeff Colyer (R). Moore outspent Taff by more than $800,000 in the general election and won 50 percent to 47 percent. Since ousting incumbent Rep. Vince Snowbarger (R) in 1998, Moore has never received more than 50 percent.

Taff’s 2004 campaign received a boost in late September when he was the beneficiary of a Washington, D.C., fundraiser featuring former Sen. Bob Dole, Sen. Pat Roberts and Reps. Jerry Moran, Jim Ryun and Todd Tiahrt. Taff had raised $281,000 through September.

Kobach, a former Overland Park city councilman, moved back to the district in the summer to run for Congress. He and Barbieri-Lightner are viewed as conservatives.

Moore looks likely to face a rematch against Taff in November 2004. He is already stockpiling funds, closing the third quarter with $490,000 on hand.

Missouri

Filing deadline: March 30
Primary: Aug. 3

Senate

Incumbent: Kit Bond (R)
3rd term (53 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican


There are few races where the parties disagree more vehemently on the outcome than they do in this state. Republicans believe Bond’s strong war chest and base in Kansas City, coupled with Democrats’ public troubles recruiting a top-tier challenger, make the incumbent a strong favorite.

Democrats counter that Bond has never drawn more than 53 percent of the vote and is not favorably perceived in the state; they also believe their candidate, state Treasurer Nancy Farmer, is a diamond in the rough.

Both sides make fair points, although much of the burden of proof lies with Democrats. Farmer was by all accounts the party’s third choice after state Auditor Claire McCaskill and Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell both decided against running. McCaskill is now running in a primary against Gov. Bob Holden (D).

Farmer’s quality as a candidate remains unclear although she posted a solid fundraising showing in the third quarter bringing in $428,000 and banking $384,000. Bond has flexed his own fundraising muscle netting $4 million through September.

Bond was caught in a bit of bad news in early October when a senior member of his Congressional staff was linked to a Web log named after the tail number of the plane that crashed in October 2000, killing then-Gov. Mel Carnahan (D), his son and a top aide.

This is a race Democrats believe will develop during the next year. Missouri is clearly a competitive state for both parties and will play host to not only a closely fought race at the presidential level but also a tight gubernatorial race. But Bond is a proven commodity, while Farmer is not.

House

3rd district
Open seat: Richard Gephardt (D) is running for president
Outlook: Safe Democratic


The race for Gephardt’s St. Louis-based seat features a familiar name to many Missouri voters: Carnahan.
State Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) is the son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) and former Sen. Jean Carnahan (D), and, given his name recognition, likely begins at the top of this crowded field. Carnahan has also outdone his Democratic opponents in fundraising. At the end of September, Carnahan had raised $242,000 for the race ($50,000 of which came from a personal loan) and banked $144,000.

Aside from Carnahan, former state Rep. Joan Barry, St. Louis Circuit Court Clerk Mariano Favazza, Washington University Law School Associate Dean Mark Smith and state Sen. Steve Stoll are also running in the Democratic primary.

Stoll struggled to raise money in the first half of 2003 but had a solid third quarter, raising $130,000, the most of any Democratic contender.

He has, also, rallied the support of several key labor groups including the firefighters, which will likely help him in the low turnout primary next year.

Oddly for a Democratic primary, the race may be decided on the abortion issue. Carnahan favors abortion rights, while Stoll does not.

Favazza, Berry and Smith are not given a real chance of winning the race.

Republicans have made some noise about targeting the seat although redistricting made it more Democratic. Al Gore would have won 54 percent in 2000.

Former state Rep. Zane Yates and perennial candidate Bill Federer are both running on the GOP side.

5th district
Incumbent: Karen McCarthy (D)
5th term (66 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic


McCarthy’s career was cruising along nicely until March when she injured herself in the Capitol while drunk. She immediately entered a treatment facility but her political future has been thrown into chaos.

Since returning to work, McCarthy has been battered by negative stories surrounding her high staff turnover and missed votes. Nine McCarthy staffers have left since the March incident — including two chiefs of staff.

McCarthy’s struggles have attracted two primary challengers in her strongly Democratic Kansas City-based district.

The more formidable of the two is former Council on Foreign Relations fellow Jamie Metzl, who moved back to the district this fall to challenge McCarthy.

Metzl served in the Clinton White House and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before moving to the CFR.

He wowed many observers by raising $127,000 for his campaign in September; McCarthy raised just $8,200 in the third quarter of 2003 but retained $418,000 in her war chest.

Damian Thorman, a public policy consultant, is also in the race. He spent more than a decade in Washington, D.C., as a Congressional aide, including a stint in the office of then-Rep. Alan Wheat (D-Mo.).

McCarthy is clearly in the fight of her political life. Metzl presents a formidable challenge, especially if he is able to keep up his early fundraising pace. But if Thorman remains in the race, he and Metzl are likely to split the anti-McCarthy vote, perhaps allowing the Congresswoman to slip through.

Regardless of which Democrat wins the primary, this is an easy hold for the party in the general election. Al Gore would have taken 66 percent there in 2000.

6th district
Incumbent: Sam Graves (R)
2nd term (63 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican


Democrats saw their inability to recruit a challenger to Graves last cycle as a major failure.

Graves won the northwestern Missouri seat in 2000 when then-Rep. Pat Danner (D) shocked the political world by withdrawing from the race with no advanced warning of her plans.

Democrats were thrilled to get her son, Steve, a sitting state Senator, into the race but he never seemed to settle into the campaign.

Relations between mother and son were strained throughout the race, and Steve Danner was unable to capitalize on his mother’s political popularity.

Graves capitalized on this division, winning the open seat with 51 percent. George W. Bush took 53 percent in the district that year.

In 2002, Democrats could not convince Danner to force a rematch and wound up with Clay County Assessor Cathy Rinehart (D). Graves outspent her by nearly $1 million and won 63 percent.

In July, Graves was one of eight Republican incumbents targeted with ads sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The ads attacked their votes for a Republican-sponsored prescription drug proposal, which Democrats alleged “will still cost many seniors thousands.”

Businessman Charlie Broomfeld is the likely Democratic nominee.

Nebraska

Filing deadline: March 1
Primary: May 11

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Lee Terry (R)
3rd term (63 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican


Democrats continue to believe they can topple Terry in this Omaha-based district despite several solid showings by the incumbent.

In 2002, Jim Simon, heir to the Omaha Steaks fortune, was the anointed Democratic candidate but never caught on. He donated $230,000 of his own money and raised another $500,000 but won just 31 percent.

That marked Terry’s second easy re-election — he defeated a Democratic state Senator 66 percent to 31 percent in 2000.

Although President Bush received his lowest percentage in the state in this district (57 percent), it is still a tough fight for Democrats.

State Sen. Nancy Thompson (D) is running.

North Dakota

Filing deadline: April 9
Primary: June 8

Senate

Incumbent: Byron Dorgan (D)
2nd term (63 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic


After dodging a major bullet in the form of former Gov. Ed Schafer (R), Dorgan is heavily favored to win a third term.

National Republicans pulled out all the stops to convince Schafer to enter the race, but he demurred. Privately, high-ranking GOPers admit that Schafer was never really interested in the race.

The likely Republican candidate is Duane Sand, who formed an exploratory committee for the race in October. Sand ran against Sen. Kent Conrad (D) in 2000, taking just 38 percent of the vote.

Sand did benefit from a campaign visit from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — a fellow Navy man — and ran an aggressive campaign but could never get the attention of the national party.

Dorgan, a member of the Democratic Senate leadership, has performed well on the fundraising circuit. He ended September with $1.5 million in the bank.

House

At-Large
Incumbent: Earl Pomeroy (D)
6th term (52 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic


The 2002 cycle had a familiar ring to it in this at-large district. Republicans threw a well-known and well-financed challenger against Pomeroy, only to see the Democrat emerge with a victory and a sixth term.

State Tax Commissioner Rick Clayburgh (R) was the GOP’s choice in 2002. Elected to his post in 1996, Clayburgh entered the race with high name identification and argued that voters who gave George W. Bush 61 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election needed a Republican Congressman to support the president.

Pomeroy ran his typical campaign, raising and spending nearly $2 million while touting his moderate credentials and ability to deliver for the state.

Pomeroy, who has never won with overwhelming majorities, took 52 percent to 48 percent for Clayburgh. In fact, Pomeroy’s highest vote percentage (57 percent) came in 1992 when he won an open-seat race.

Clayburgh is interested in another bid although he is up for re-election to his current post next year and would have to forsake it to run for Congress.

He has drawn criticism from the state Democratic Party for his recent appearance in public service advertisements; Democrats believe the ads are the first step in a Clayburgh Congressional bid.

If Clayburgh runs, he is likely to get a boost from Bush at the top of the ticket.

South Dakota

Filing deadline: April 6
Primary: June 1

Senate

Incumbent: Tom Daschle (D)
3rd term (62 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic


No Senate race has been more high profile in 2003 than this one.

From Daschle’s aborted presidential run in January to speculation surrounding whether he would seek another term to the possible candidacy of former Rep. John Thune (R), this race has been grist for the political rumor mill for months.

Daschle now appears set to run for a fourth term and is raising money at a brisk clip. At the end of September, he had $3 million left to spend.

Thune’s candidacy, once considered a foregone conclusion, appears now to be a somewhat iffy proposition.

After serving six years in the House, Thune was convinced by President Bush to skip a run for governor and take on Sen. Tim Johnson (D) in 2002. He lost that race by 524 votes, the closest Senate contest in the country.

After that loss, Thune largely avoided the political arena, but most Republicans expected him to announce his 2004 candidacy shortly after this Labor Day, buoyed by independent polling showing him in a statistical dead heat with Daschle.

That announcement has not yet come, leading some to speculate that Thune may decide against running. Even his closest advisers admit they do not know what Thune will ultimately do.

Amid speculation about Thune, former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby (R) has said he is interested in the race if Thune chooses not to run. State Sen. Larry Diedrich and former state Rep. Barb Everist are also mentioned.

Kirby, a close friend of Thune, was considered the leading candidate to replace outgoing Gov. Bill Janklow (R) in 2002, but got caught up in a nasty primary fight against the state attorney general that backfired on both of them, delivering the primary victory to a little-known state Senator.

Kirby, who is personally wealthy, spent more than $2.5 million on that race.

Daschle’s campaign team — one of the best in the business — is taking advantage of Thune’s indecision, putting together a turnout operation similar to the one that helped Johnson defeat Thune, and running ads touting the Senator’s ability to deliver for the state.

If Thune gets into the race, this will be one of the closest and most expensive in the country. If not, Republicans face a much more difficult road even with Kirby as their candidate.

House

At-Large
Incumbent: Bill Janklow (R)
1st term (53 percent)
Outlook: Tossup


The outlook for this race changed drastically Aug. 16 when Janklow was involved in an automobile accident that left a motorcyclist dead.

Janklow was subsequently charged with second-degree manslaughter, a felony, as well as three misdemeanors, and is set to stand trial in December.

Many observers expected Janklow to resign as soon as he was charged but he has shown no indication that he plans to do so. He has also not signalled whether he will run for re-election.

Already Democrats are readying themselves for either a special election or an open seat next November.

Under either scenario, attorney and 2002 House nominee Stephanie Herseth (D) will run.

Herseth, the daughter and granddaughter of well-known Mount Rushmore State politicians, emerged as a rising star last cycle, winning a primary over several more experienced politicians and giving Janklow, a four-term governor, a real scare. She ultimately lost the race 53 percent to 46 percent.

Herseth is now working as the executive director of the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation but just declared her candidacy.

National Republicans are leery of talking about Janklow’s future, admitting that he does not consult with them, but believe there are several candidates waiting in the wings.

Leading that list is Thune, who House Republicans believe could be talked into the race. Those close to Thune say he is uninterested in returning to the House, however.

If Thune turns the race down, Republican names mentioned include state Sen. Larry Diedrich, who ran briefly in 2002, former state Rep. Barb Everist and Mark Mickelson, the son of the late Gov. George Mickelson (R).

In a special election, Herseth would likely have an edge over any Republican but Thune. In an open-seat situation, this would be a toss-up race.